Library digitization project will make Sentinel's full archives accessible online

Armchair historians and amateur genealogists rejoice — the entire Sentinel archive will be digitized and easily searchable online.

The Friends of the Library has received a $17,000 Rasmuson Foundation grant, which, combined with community donations, should cover the estimated $24,000 project.

The Irene Ingle Public Library is partnering with Alaska Resources Library & Information Services (ARLIS) at the University of Alaska Anchorage to digitize, assemble and upload the entire catalog of Sentinels going back to its founding in 1902, and even many of Wrangell’s earlier newspapers of the 1890s.

“Right now, in order to access any of this information, you have to physically look in our machine,” explained Assistant Librarian Sarah Scambler. “It can be really challenging and it’s very time-consuming.”

The archives are on microfilm, meaning that the librarians must scroll through rolls of tiny, unsearchable text to locate information. Patrons “call us and they want to know about their cousin, Joe Brown,” said Library Director Margaret Villarma. “Sometimes,” added Scambler, “we can’t find it because they don’t have a specific date.”

Not only is scanning through rolls of microfilm tough on the eyes, it’s inaccessible for remote researchers. Once the digitization project is complete, “they’ll be able to access this information anywhere online, anywhere in the world,” said Villarma.

ARLIS will manage the project to convert the microfilm to a different format which can be more easily transformed into a digital file and uploaded online. Users will be able to enter a keyword and search the entire database for articles.

Issues from 1956 and earlier are currently available on Chronicling America, an open-source newspaper database produced by the United States National Digital Newspaper Program. The site, however, can be difficult to navigate. Villarma and Scambler hope to compile all the paper’s back issues into a single, Sentinel-specific database.

Expanded online records could be helpful to researchers, Scambler explained. Oregon-based Wrangell historian Ronan Rooney refers to the archive frequently while researching his podcast, “Wrangell History Unlocked.” Because of its longstanding newspaper, “Wrangell has one of the deepest benches of knowledge,” he said. “It’s a well-documented place.”

The Sentinel is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Alaska, having never missed a scheduled edition.

Rooney hopes his podcast encourages listeners to explore the archives and discover the Wrangell of years past. “There’s nothing you can’t research,” he said. “There’s so many sources available and they’re digital right now.”

Historians aren’t the only people who will benefit from an expanded digital archive. Many seek out past Sentinels not to track Wrangell’s economic ups and downs since the turn of the century, but to learn more about their loved ones. The library gets requests for “a lot of obituaries,” said Scambler. “People are looking for their family history.”

The exact timeline for the digitization project has not yet been established. The completion deadline under the Rasmuson Foundation grant is Nov. 30, but Villarma anticipates some flexibility. “If for some reason we can’t get it completed by that time, we will try to get an extension,” she said.


Reader Comments(0)